A busy day traffic-wise here at GitM: In a speech before the Knesset today, Dubya compared Obama to Sen. William Borah of Idaho (and not in complimentary fashion, although that case could be made too.) Here’s GWB: “Some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: ‘Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided.’ We have an obligation to call this what it is –- the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.“
Now, as it turns out, Sen. Borah was the subject of my undergraduate thesis and features prominently in my dissertation. So, notwithstanding the self-serving idiocy and sad invoking of Godwin’s Law in Dubya’s words, I do want to take a moment to defend Sen. Borah, before — just as Philip Roth Cheneyed up Burton Wheeler — he disappears down the memory hole and is reinvented as simply a kneejerk reactionary. (I know Dubya brought him up to bash as a weak-kneed surrender-monkey, but I’ve also read several left-leaning comments out and about today that make note that Borah was a Republican, and thus belongs in Dubya’s camp. He really doesn’t.)
However wrong he was about Hitler in his final years, and obviously he was very, very wrong (although not perhaps as wrong as George Prescott Bush), Sen. Borah is neither the apostle of appeasement nor the GOP stooge that Dubya and folks pushing back would respectively make him out to be today. With La Follette and Johnson, Borah was one of the leading progressives in the Senate for decades, and one of its strongest civil liberties advocates in the years after World War I. In fact, if Dubya wants to ponder aloud the words of Borah, may I suggest the following?
The men who are destroying American institutions and who are a menace to American principles are not the ‘reds,’ nor the anarchistic…but rather the men who, professing like Augustus the Great, to preserve our Constitution, are subtly and with sinister and selfish purposes, undermining them.” — Borah to Frank Morrison, 1921.
But, civil liberties aside, what should we take from Sen. Borah’s unfortunate remarks about Hitler (which he made at the age of 75, less than a year before his death?) Well, to me, it might suggest that age can cloud the judgement of all of us, even long-standing Senate mavericks much-beloved by the media. It’s just a good thing that ancient, venerable lion of the Senate didn’t win the election of 1936, eh?